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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 1, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 01 June 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Veterans (Deprivation), Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time


To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-01331)

Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills said that cuts to teacher training places five years ago probably went too far. Opposition parties could have told his predecessor that at the time—and, in fact, we did. Will the First Minister admit that, when it comes to the basic task of putting enough teachers into our classrooms, her Government got it wrong?

No. As those who were in Parliament at the time—back in 2010 and 2011—will recall, at that time we had a significant issue with teacher unemployment. It was thought that we had a surplus of teachers coming out of the system, many of whom were struggling to get jobs, which is why we took the action that we did. Of course, in every one of the six years since then, we have seen an increase in the numbers of students going into teacher education—in fact, this year, we are seeing an increase in teacher training numbers of 371. We also have a teacher recruitment campaign that targets science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and builds on the work that was done last year that helped to drive a 19 per cent increase in the intake of student teachers. In the past years, we have seen an increase in the number of teachers working in our schools, and the Government is investing more than £80 million to maintain teacher numbers in schools and to maintain the pupil teacher ratio.

As I have previously recognised in the chamber, we have work to do, but we are taking the actions to make sure that we have the right number of teachers in our schools and are getting on with the important job of improving standards and closing the attainment gap.

Once again, we have a First Minister asking for applause for promising to fix a mess that her Government made. It is quite simple: the Scottish National Party Government did not listen to warnings from the chamber or from student leaders, who called for an end to “boom and bust” methods towards teacher training. First, it brought on too many trainees, with the consequence that they ended up in dole queues and not in the classrooms; then it cut the numbers too drastically, with the consequence that we no longer have enough teachers—we have 4,000 fewer than when this Government came to office. Does that sound to the First Minister like the record of a competent Government?

I will tell the chamber who we did not listen to back in 2010: we did not listen to the Tories, because here is what they had to say about the issue of “demand and supply”, as Liz Smith described it at the time:

“given all the difficulties and the current economic situation, it might be necessary to re-examine teachers’ conditions.”—[Official Report, Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, 27 October 2010; c 4056.]

That is what the Tories wanted us to do: they wanted us to slash teachers’ pay and conditions.

As I have said, this is an important issue. Those who were in Parliament at the time will remember previous First Minister’s question times at which we talked about the very important issue of teacher unemployment—we inherited a figure for teacher training that was considered at that time to be leading to an oversupply of teachers. That is why we took corrective action at the time to deal with that issue.

In every single one of the six years since then, we have made sure that we have had appropriate numbers of teachers coming into teacher training—as I have said, this year we are supporting an additional 371 people going into teacher training.

As we saw in the most recent figures published in December, we had more teachers in our schools last year than was the case in the previous year; and we are investing more than £80 million into local authorities to ensure that we maintain the number of teachers.

Teachers are there to ensure that they are raising standards and closing the attainment gap. One of the most important, or—to use the words of a teacher who I spoke to on Saturday in East Dunbartonshire—“life-changing” things that we are doing is putting more money into the hands of teachers directly. More money is going into the hands of headteachers, so that they can take the steps to raise standards and to close the attainment gap.

Again, I will be absolutely frank with the chamber and the people of Scotland: we have challenges to confront and we are confronting them—we are pressing on with the programme of reform in education, to make sure that we address each and every one of them.

Yesterday, John Swinney said that the Government had got it wrong. Today, the First Minister stands up and says that it is everyone else’s fault. The line on education from this First Minister seems to be that we should forget about 10 years of failure, forget about the mess that the Government has made and forget about the children who have been failed by it, and that she is the person to sort it out. If she is going to do that, she first has to admit the consequences of getting it wrong. She needs to admit that her Government’s workforce planning has been disastrous and what that means. It means that we do not have enough teachers for STEM subjects, we do not have enough teachers for additional support needs and that schools are being forced to limit which subjects pupils are able to take because they do not have enough teachers to do the job. If the First Minister is going to fix the matter, will she first admit what needs to be fixed?

Ruth Davidson rightly talks about the importance of workforce planning. The decision that she is criticising, taken in one year—in 2010—was based on the unanimous advice of the teacher workforce planning group. That group includes councils, teaching unions and the universities.

Ruth Davidson wants me to take responsibility. In every single year since 2010, as a Government, we have ensured that an increasing number of young people go into teacher training. We acted to deal with an issue that was there at the time and was subject to much discussion in this chamber. We recognised that we had to increase teacher training places in the years after 2010; therefore, as I say, for every one of the past six years, we have increased the numbers going into teacher training.

We are taking a range of other actions, too, from the national improvement framework and the attainment challenge; from the attainment fund and the pupil equity fund, which are getting resources into the hands of teachers; to the increased number of teachers who are in our schools compared with in the previous year. I take responsibility for everything that this Government does, but I am also absolutely determined to get on with the job of improving standards in our schools.

The last point that I will make to Ruth Davidson is this: while I take absolute responsibility for everything that this Government does, over the next seven days, we need to make sure that we do not end up with another Westminster Government that is taking action and making cuts that are likely to push an additional 1 million children across the United Kingdom into poverty. It will not help anyone to raise standards in our schools if we have a Westminster Government pushing those children into conditions of poverty.

The First Minister’s response seems to be: “I take responsibility, but it’s everyone else’s fault.” Earlier this week, we set out our interim report into the curriculum for excellence. One of the numerous recommendations was to ensure the proper teaching of core skills, given that we have seen standards of literacy, numeracy and science drop under this Government.

I have noticed that John Mason has an education question in a few moments’ time. This is the same John Mason who, in a litany of tweets this week, has said that we have moved on from spelling and times tables, that if someone only has basic literacy, they should concentrate on what they are good at, that people do not need spelling to be a surgeon, that people do not need grammar to work in information technology, that an engineer does not need high levels of English and that there was too much emphasis on the—I quote him directly—“academic” in the past. Is that the view of the Scottish National Party Government? If it is, it explains why standards are so poor.

I had a look at the publication that the Tories published earlier this week and, actually, much of it is work that this Government is already doing in our schools. The Tories should maybe pay more attention.

Getting back to the serious point of standards of literacy, it is because the highest standards of literacy are so vital for every single young person across our country that we are taking the action that we are taking. It is why we now have new curriculum for excellence benchmarks in place. It is why we have established the attainment fund, directing resources to headteachers to allow them to take the action that they think is necessary to improve standards. It is why we have put in place arrangements to make sure that, in future, we will have comprehensive data, school by school and local authority by local authority, telling us how our schools are performing in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. It is why we have initiatives like the reading challenge, encouraging young people to read for pleasure.

Standards of literacy are vitally important as a foundation for everything else that our young people do. That is why we will get on with the job of building on the progress that we have made in our education system and on the hard work done by teachers and pupils across this country. It is also why, unlike the Conservatives in Westminster, we will increase the budgets going to our schools while they continue to cut theirs.


To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the week. (S5F-01327)

Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

The Scottish National Party’s treatment time guarantee gives patients a 12-week legal guarantee for treatment such as knee replacements and eye surgery. Will the First Minister tell us how many people waited longer than 12 weeks in the past year?

We have a situation in our national health service, like many health services have, of increasing demand. More patients are waiting longer than we would want them to wait, including those with the treatment time guarantee of 12 weeks. However, since the 12-week treatment target was introduced, more than 1.3 million in-patients and day-case patients have benefited from it and 94.6 per cent of all patients have been treated within 12 weeks.

We saw in the figures that were published this week that, as a result of the £10 million investment that the health secretary made last November, there has been a 20 per cent reduction in the number of out-patients who are waiting for treatment. On Tuesday, the health secretary announced £50 million of additional investment to make sure that we see continued improvements in in-patient waiting times, too.

There was no answer in any of that, so I will give the First Minister the answer: in the past year alone, more than 38,000 patients waited longer than 12 weeks. We have just heard her tell the chamber that people across Scotland have benefited from the legal guarantee, but Labour can reveal today that patients actually had a better chance of being treated within 12 weeks before the SNP introduced the legal guarantee. That should shame the First Minister, because behind those numbers are people and real lives: it is pensioners, children and parents waiting months for operations.

That is not the only problem that the NHS faces. This week alone, we have seen that accident and emergency targets and cancer diagnostic waiting times have been missed again. The British Medical Association told us that staff shortages are the reason for falling standards in our hospitals and Cancer Research UK said that patients are waiting too long. All of that is growing evidence of the SNP’s 10-year mismanagement of the NHS. When will the First Minister focus on the day job and start fixing the mess that she has made of our NHS?

I acknowledge the challenges that our NHS faces, which are the same challenges that health services around the world face from increasing demand because of changing demographics. However, in so many ways, and on so many indicators, the performance of the NHS in Scotland far outstrips that of the NHS in any other part of the United Kingdom.

In particular, on almost every indicator that we can look at, the performance of NHS Scotland outstrips the performance of the NHS in Labour-run Wales. In accident and emergency, A and E departments in Scotland have for 25 consecutive months been the best performing anywhere in the UK. However, there is no recognition from anybody in the Opposition of the hard work of our A and E staff who deliver that performance.

Under the SNP, the level of staffing in the national health service has increased by more than 12,000. The budget for the NHS has increased by £3 billion, and our plans to increase it further over this session go way beyond what any other party in the Parliament pledged to do at the election last year and way beyond what any other party is pledging to do at this year’s election.

We have more doctors, nurses and other health professionals per head of population than any other part of the United Kingdom. I readily acknowledge the pressures that our NHS staff work under, and I thank them for what they do, but occasionally, just once in a while, the Opposition parties should also recognise the good work that is being done in our NHS and the fact that it is doing so much better than the NHS in other parts of the UK.

That answer was so revealing. When the First Minister is faced with her dismal 10-year record, all that she has in the tank is a kick at the Labour Party and an attempt to suggest that we are talking down the staff. We know that the First Minister does not like it when people speak the truth about her record on the NHS—we can just ask the nurse who had the courage to expose what life is like under the SNP.

Here is the reality: standards in our hospitals are down, NHS staff are overworked and underpaid, and tens of thousands of people are waiting longer for treatment. Is that not what happens when the SNP spends more time on running a campaign for a referendum than it does on running our NHS?

I suppose that we should have a competition in First Minister’s questions for who the first person to get the word “referendum” in is. In most weeks, it is not me who mentions it.

If that is Labour’s attack, how does Labour explain why, according to almost every indicator that we can point to, the NHS in Scotland under an SNP Government is doing significantly better than the NHS in Wales under a Labour Government? What is Labour’s excuse?

Let me point to the action that we have taken on the NHS. The level of staffing is up by 12,000; the number of qualified nurses and midwives is up by 7 per cent; the number of doctors is up by 30 per cent; and the number of consultants is up by 45 per cent. We are investing more money than any other party would have invested, and we are ensuring that we are delivering for patients across the country. Whether on education or on health, we will continue to focus on delivering for people across the country and we will leave Opposition members to their constitutional obsessions.

I am sure that the First Minister and all members will wish to send our most sincere sympathy to the family and friends of the young cyclist who tragically lost her life on Princes Street yesterday.

What action is the Scottish Government taking to aid the inquiry into that devastating accident? Will the First Minister and her Minister for Transport and the Islands meet the many groups and individuals who for many years have been calling for safe conditions for cyclists and pedestrians in Edinburgh and across Scotland, to ensure that no other family has to bear such an appalling loss?

I convey my heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of the cyclist who so tragically lost her life in Edinburgh yesterday. It was a tragic incident that is sad almost beyond words. As the member will understand, I will not go into any detail about the incident, as there are and will continue to be investigations into it. The Scottish Government will assist with that in any way that we possibly can.

As the member is aware, we have taken a number of actions over the years, which include providing increased investment, to encourage more people to cycle and to make cycling as safe as possible for people.

To directly answer the question, the relevant minister would be willing to meet representatives of cycling groups not just in Edinburgh but across the country, to consider what further action we can take to ensure that cycling, which is an activity that we encourage, is as safe as it possibly can be for everybody who partakes in it.

Kyle Gunn from Johnstone applied to study for a higher national diploma in practical journalism at Glasgow Clyde College, where he has been studying for a national qualification in media and communications. He has cerebral palsy, which means that he cannot write in shorthand. The Scottish Qualifications Authority has told him that that means that he cannot progress to an HND, as he would not be able to complete the shorthand component of the course. Essentially, that penalises him because of his disability. Does the First Minister agree that that is unacceptable? Will she look into the matter?

I am very happy to look into it. I do not know Kyle Gunn but, from that short question, he sounds like a remarkable young man who should be supported as much as possible to achieve his dreams. I do not know the full circumstances, so it would be wrong for me to say more about the matter now, but I will have it looked into, and I will return to Maurice Golden in writing when I have the opportunity to do so.

The First Minister will be aware of continuing concerns about the Vale of Leven hospital. There is the maternity review, an out-of-hours service review and a review of emergency admission points, such as the medical assessment unit.

Will the First Minister join me in welcoming hospitalwatch to the chamber? It is here to present an unusual petition—a bed sheet with thousands of signatures—following a 24-hour vigil at the hospital. I understand that no one from the Government is available to meet hospitalwatch today. Will the First Minister agree to a future meeting with it to discuss the importance of the Vale of Leven hospital to my local community?

I am very happy to welcome hospitalwatch to the chamber, and I congratulate it on its innovative way of lodging a petition, which we would be delighted to receive.

I know about the Vale of Leven hospital issue well from my past ministerial responsibilities. Shona Robison has recently sought assurances from Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board about the continued provision of comprehensive hospital, community and primary care services across the whole of the Clyde area, but particularly at the Vale of Leven hospital. That remains a priority. It is the responsibility of all health boards to ensure that services are provided safely, and Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board is no exception to that in respect of the Vale of Leven hospital.

However, we should also remember something that I am proud of. The Government ended a decade of damaging uncertainty by delivering the vision for the Vale. We saw a previous Labour Administration close the hospital’s accident and emergency department back in 2002. In the years that followed, we saw a decline in in-patient and day-case activity at the hospital. The Government took office in 2007. In 2009, we published the “Vision for the Vale of Leven Hospital” document. I can give members an important statistic, which I hope that Jackie Baillie, as a campaigner for the Vale of Leven hospital, will welcome. Since we published that document, in-patient and day-case activity at the hospital has increased by almost a third. We ended a decade of decline at the Vale of Leven hospital, and the Government is determined to ensure that the hospital continues to have a very positive future delivering for the patients whom it serves.

Cabinet (Meetings)

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S5F-01333)

Matters of importance to the people of Scotland.

This week, I met hospital campaigners in Wick, who are facing the consequences of the downgrading of the Caithness general hospital maternity unit. Young mothers told me about the harrowing 100-mile journey to Inverness to give birth. That part of the country feels let down by the loss of such important lifeline services. The First Minister is under pressure on the issue. Will she finally intervene and reverse the decision?

The issue is very important, and I genuinely hope that we can avoid party politics on it. [Interruption.] I mean that. As Willie Rennie will be aware, decisions have been taken on the basis of advice that was given on the basis of patient safety. It is really important that no politician should or could run in the face of advice that is based on patient safety.

NHS Highland is currently undertaking a review of the clinical service model at Caithness general hospital. On midwife services, I absolutely understand the feelings of mothers or expectant mothers who are faced with long journeys, but we absolutely cannot have a service provided at any hospital if the advice is that it might not be safe. It was following the death of an infant at the maternity unit in September 2015 that the board took the decision to change the operating status of the maternity unit—it is a midwife-led service.

I understand people’s feelings, and we will continue to work closely with the health board to make sure that it has the right services in place and, in the interim, to support women who might be affected by the different model that is there. At all times, and in all steps that we take, patient safety will be the paramount consideration.

I take exception to what the First Minister just said. I am raising the issue because it is important, and she should accept that I have a right to ask the question.

The First Minister talks about safety. What about the risk to the mothers in labour who are on the road, on the narrow A9, for two and a half hours? A population of almost 30,000 deserves better than a 100-mile trip to get to hospital.

People across the country are being let down. When Nicola Sturgeon announced a legally binding treatment time guarantee, she said that there would be

“a straightforward system of redress, on the rare occasions when things go wrong.”

It was rare that things went wrong at first—that is true; only five patients waited longer than 12 weeks. It is not rare any more; there are 13,005 patients waiting now.

Why can the First Minister come up with a triple lock for independence but not a triple lock for patients? The waiting time guarantee is not worth the paper that it is written on, and 13,000 people know it.

First, may I return to Caithness maternity services? Let the record be absolutely clear: I did not suggest that Willie Rennie did not have the right to raise the issue. I simply expressed the hope that we would be able to discuss the issue without party politics intervening, because the decision to change the status of Caithness maternity unit was made by NHS Highland on the ground of safety. It was informed by a review that the board commissioned after the tragic death of a child in September 2015. The chief medical officer supports the findings of that review. The decision was never referred to ministers, because it was made on the ground of safety, and the Scottish ministers have never intervened in this case.

I understand the concerns that mothers and families have, but I think that more mothers and families would undoubtedly be concerned if we were standing by and allowing a service to be delivered that was putting children’s lives at risk. We will continue to work with NHS Highland to make sure that we can deliver safe services for people and support them, whatever the model of care has to be at any given time. The health secretary will be happy to meet anyone in Caithness who has concerns, to discuss the issue further.

On the treatment time guarantee, as I have said, yes, more patients are coming forward for treatment as a result of the rising demand on health services across the world, but we are investing record sums of money to deal with that demand. There has been a reduction in the number of out-patients waiting, and just this week, the health secretary announced additional, targeted investment to make sure that we see the same improvements around in-patient and day-case treatment. We will get on with the work of making sure that that happens.

Lastly, if Willie Rennie had not raised it, I would not have chosen to go on from such important issues to the issue of the constitution. However, Willie Rennie’s position in this election beggars belief. On one hand, he—

Who is being party political?

Before I get criticised—[Interruption.] Well, Willie Rennie raised the issue. On one hand, he is going round—as he is entitled to do—criticising the Scottish National Party for wanting to give people in Scotland a choice over their future at the end of the Brexit process. On the other hand, he is going the length and breadth of the country arguing for a second referendum on European Union membership. At least Willie Rennie could be consistent for once—I know that that does not happen often, but in future he could perhaps try a bit of consistency in this chamber.

What progress has been made in introducing Scottish social security benefits?

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, Angela Constance, made a statement earlier this week on the next steps that we will take to deliver Scotland’s new social security system, and outlined that the first benefits to be delivered through the new system will be the increase to the carer’s allowance, the new best start grant and funeral expense assistance. Over the next couple of years, those benefits will start to be delivered through the new system.

We are seven days away from an election in which the future of social security is a key issue. I am proud to be standing on a platform of ending cuts to support for disabled and low-income people. It is not surprising that the Tory Party wants to press ahead with billions of pounds more cuts that are driving people into poverty and widening the inequality gap. It is more surprising that Labour has pledged to reverse only a quarter of the further cuts to come to social security.

We will continue to get on and deliver the new system, but we will also continue to stand up across the UK for a social security system that has fairness and dignity at its heart.

Yesterday’s shocking report into the deaths of tagged golden eagles showed just how high is the wall of silence that surrounds some of our sporting estates in Scotland. What assurances can the First Minister give that there will be a licensing regime for driven grouse shoots? Given the decades of support that the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has given to the police to tackle animal welfare crimes, why cannot its role be extended to wildlife crimes?

I share the concerns about the report on the fate of satellite-tagged raptors, which paints a disturbing picture of the illegal killing of our iconic golden eagles. It shows that, between 2004 and 2016, around one third of tagged golden eagles have disappeared in suspicious circumstances.

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, has announced a comprehensive and robust set of measures that seek to build on the action taken over recent years. The proposals that were announced yesterday send out a very strong message that we are absolutely determined that Scotland’s wildlife must be for everyone to enjoy, not for criminals to destroy for their own narrow, selfish ends. I hope that the measures announced by the cabinet secretary will be welcomed by Mark Ruskell, and I know that she will be happy to meet him to discuss this further.

Newly Qualified Teachers

To ask the First Minister what recent discussions the Scottish Government has had with local authority directors of education concerning the quality of newly qualified teachers. (S5F-01340)

We are determined to ensure that all newly qualified teachers enter the profession feeling confident in their skills and knowledge. The Scottish Government meets directors of education regularly to discuss a range of issues relating to education and further to the publication of the content analysis of initial teacher education last week, we will discuss next steps with universities, the General Teaching Council for Scotland and local authorities.

As we approach the end of the 2017 exam diet, I also take this opportunity to thank all teachers who have been involved in preparing our young people to sit their exams. It is important for our teachers to know that their commitment is valued and that their contribution is vital to our young people’s success at school and in the future.

Does the First Minister agree with the comments by Maureen McKenna, who is executive director of education in Glasgow and president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, who said,

“I have been very impressed by the quality of newly qualified teachers coming to teach in Glasgow. Our headteachers also report very positively about the quality of newly qualified teachers”?

She also made the point that teacher training at college or university is just the first step in a career and that training on the job is hugely important.

Maureen McKenna’s comments are important and legitimate. It is a testament to our teachers and, of course, to pupils that we have record higher and advanced higher passes, more young people achieving national 5 qualifications and we have record numbers of young people going into work, education and training. Perhaps most significantly, we are starting to see the attainment gap—the kind of attainment gap that is seen in many countries—begin to close.

That does not mean that we have not got much more to do, including on teacher education. The report that I referred to in my first answer found inconsistencies between courses, and that is a cause for concern. None of that changes the fact that Scotland has excellent teachers who deserve our full support.

Does the First Minister believe that, within the context of teacher training, there should be greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy, or does she agree with Mr Mason that

“Learning times tables & spelling stronger in my day but we have moved on”?

The guidance that was issued last August puts primacy on literacy and numeracy. As I said earlier, high standards of literacy and numeracy are essential to provide the foundation for children’s learning in other subjects.

The report on initial teacher education that I referred to, which was published last week, showed a variation in what student teachers say about their learning on literacy and we want to address that. Standards of literacy are vitally important. That is why we have new benchmarks in place, we are focusing on literacy through everything that the attainment challenge is doing, and we have initiatives such as the reading challenge, which tries to use the pleasure of reading to help to improve literacy among young people. We will continue to get on with all those things and, as we do so, I hope that we have the support of members across the chamber.

A report from the University of Glasgow this week notes that Tory benefit sanctions have caused more harm to the poor than any policy since the workhouse. Many hundreds of thousands of people who have been sanctioned include single parents who are unable to attend interviews because of childcare, family illness or simply not having money for their bus fare. Last night, the Prime Minister failed to attend an important interview.

Ms McAlpine.

She has no excuses. What does the First Minister—

Ms McAlpine.

—think her sanction should be?

First Minister, the question must be a supplementary to the question in the Business Bulletin. We will move on.

People with Dementia

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government is doing to provide support for people with dementia. (S5F-01336)

This is dementia awareness week and I am pleased to say that this Government has maintained a priority focus on dementia since 2007. We have prioritised national support for staff education, training and development across all care settings, improved dementia care standards for everyone who has a diagnosis of dementia regardless of where they live, their age or the severity of their illness, and we have ensured the provision of high-quality, person-centred, post-diagnostic support.

We will publish our new dementia strategy in the coming weeks and it will set out in further detail the work that we and our partners will undertake to improve support, care and treatment for people who have dementia, their families and their carers in the years ahead.

I thank the First Minister for her answer but, as usual, to hear it, we would think that everything is fine. She is totally out of touch, as usual. Let me tell her what the real world looks like.

In the North East, the number of people diagnosed with dementia has increased by more than 44 per cent in the past decade. However, in 2014-15 in NHS Grampian, only 23 per cent of people diagnosed were referred for post-diagnostic support. What will the Scottish Government do to ensure that people in remote and rural areas are able to access the support that they require?

Like other countries, Scotland has more work to do. We are seeing more and more people being diagnosed with dementia as the population lives longer.

One of the things that Scotland is recognised for internationally is our high rate of diagnosis of dementia. Any expert will say that early diagnosis is essential. That is true of any condition, but it is particularly true of dementia because of the nature of the support that is required. We are leading the world in getting people diagnosed early. We have more work to do on the provision of post-diagnostic support but, again, we are way ahead of most other countries when it comes to putting in place post-diagnostic services. Later this month, we will publish our new dementia strategy, which will build on our commitments and set out what we aim to achieve in the years ahead.

Let me tell the member about something that we will not do in Scotland: impose a dementia tax on old people. I am proud that over-65s in Scotland have free personal and nursing care. For older people who are eligible for nursing and personal care, that means a contribution of nearly £13,000 a year, if they have to fund their own care, from the state. That does not take away the burden on personal resources, but it reduces it significantly.

We will also not be ensuring that somebody’s house is part of their financial assessment if they are receiving care in their own home, which the Tories are planning to do in England.

On that, as on so many other areas, we have work to do, but I am proud that, when it comes to a progressive approach to dementia and to paying for social care, Scotland is so much further ahead than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Next week, we have to make sure that we do not allow the Tories to drag us backwards.

I think that I know the answer, but does the First Minister agree that the dementia tax, which is essentially a plot to allow the financial services industry to asset strip dementia sufferers, is one of the most inhumane manifesto pledges ever devised?

Yes. From a sedentary position, Ruth Davidson is trying to defend it, just as she defends the rape clause and other inhumane Tory policies. Not only is the dementia tax wrong in principle, but—completely beyond belief—the Prime Minister who put forward that policy now cannot answer even the most basic of questions about it. First, there was to be no cap on the cost of care, then there was to be a cap. However, nobody in the Tories can tell anybody where that level is to be set, just as they cannot tell anybody what the means test for the winter fuel allowance will be. Who will lose it? Who will retain it? Ruth Davidson said that we do not have to worry about that in Scotland, but they will not tell us how much money they will devolve to go with the power. Will they devolve the budget for the winter fuel allowance now, or will they do as they did with employment support and lop money off it before they do so?

The Tory manifesto that was published a couple of weeks ago was nothing short of an assault on pensioners’ benefits. The triple lock for pensions is to go, the winter fuel allowance is to go and there is a dementia tax. It is very clear for pensioners across Scotland that, if they want to make sure that Theresa May does not have the power to take away their benefits and protections, they should make sure that they have strong MPs standing up for them.

People with Arthritis (Assistance to Work)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government is doing to help people with arthritis who are struggling to work. (S5F-01338)

In December last year, we launched “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People—Our Delivery Plan to 2021 for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, which includes £3 million of funding for the active and independent living improvement programme. That programme helps to ensure that those who develop health conditions such as arthritis while in employment can find the support that they need to stay in work. From April this year, we have been using devolved employability powers to provide Scottish employment services for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions to help them to find work and to stay in work.

We have also committed to exploring new ways of integrating health, disability and employment support in Scotland to ensure that people can find their way quickly to the tailored and person-centred support that they need.

Does the First Minister agree that there is a need to recognise the scale and impact in Scotland of musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis? It is the biggest cause of disability and pain around the country and, according to Arthritis Research UK, it accounts for half of all work-related illness. In Scotland, 800,000 people live with osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis. Anyone who has it will confirm that it is a very painful condition.

There is some evidence to suggest that the use of cannabis can alleviate pain for some sufferers, and some people have called for use of cannabis under strict medical conditions. For example, countries including Germany and Canada and 21 states in the US already do that. Earlier this year, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said that cannabinoids are safe and that companies can now apply for licences. I was genuinely pleased to note that the Scottish National Party conference overwhelmingly backed that last year.

Would the First Minister consider taking steps to license cannabis for medical purposes, or would she at least commit to looking at the basis for doing that?

I thank Pauline McNeill for raising the issue and, more generally, I agree with her that arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions make it very difficult for many people to sustain employment. That is why all the work that I mentioned in my previous answer is so important—it helps people either to get or to stay in employment.

It is also one of the reasons why I think the assaults on benefits for disabled people and others are so wrong; often they penalise people who want to work but find it difficult to do so. Indeed, one of the other benefit changes that I hope will be reversed in the next couple of years is the cut to the employment support allowance for disabled people.

I have long been of the view that there is a case for medicinal use of cannabis. I am not in favour of decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis in general, but I think that there is a case to be made for its careful use for certain conditions. There are two, albeit related, issues to highlight: first, use of cannabis itself, in respect of which I note that the licensing and classification of drugs is reserved to the United Kingdom Government, and the separate—though, as I have said, related—issue that I think Pauline McNeill is raising, which is drugs that are derived from cannabis. The approval of any drug for use in Scotland is a decision for the independent Scottish Medicines Consortium, and I am more than happy to ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to write to the member in more detail on whether any drugs that are currently under consideration fall into that category.

I am sympathetic to the suggestion. I do not hold all the levers here in terms of the classification of drugs, but as far as medicines are concerned, we have a recognised process in Scotland and it is, of course, open to any manufacturer of drugs to ask for approval through it.

That concludes First Minister’s questions.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. When the First Minister was questioned by Kezia Dugdale and Willie Rennie on the legal guarantee for treatment waiting times, I believe that on three occasions the First Minister responded by saying that the number of patients being seen had gone up. In fact, her own Government statistics and the statistics from the Information Services Division show that the number of patients being seen has actually declined while the number of those waiting for treatment has gone up. In 2013, 335,000 patients were seen and 5,000 waited over 12 weeks. In 2016, fewer than 310,000 patients were seen, while more than 30,000 patients waited longer than the 12-week treatment guarantee. Will the First Minister take this opportunity to correct the record?

I thank Mr Sarwar for raising his point of order. All members have a duty to be accurate and truthful when they talk in the chamber. The member can pursue such issues by lodging written questions or asking other questions in debates. That was not a point of order, otherwise.